You’ll find dozens and dozens of games in Apple Arcade, and—wonder of wonders—almost none are bad. Some games are better than others, though, so here’s a list of the 10 games you should start with. These games weren’t necessarily made with the biggest budgets or by the biggest studios, but they’re games that are endlessly replayable and stick in your head.
One note: A lot of these games really come into their own when played with a proper controller like the Sony DualShock 4 or the Xbox One controller. You'll have the most fun playing these games on either the iPad or Apple TV—but controllers work great on the iPhone, too.
What the Golf?
What the Golf? is hilarious, weird, mildly challenging, and kind of stupid. I absolutely love it. It’s always about golf, but you can get idea of the zany directions in which it takes that foundation in by playing one of the first levels. You’ll find a house on a golf course, and so you pull back your finger (or press a button on your controller) to set the angle and force for the ball and, well, that’s when you find out that it’s the house that’s moving. And then you’ll keep putting this ranch house around the screen until it tumbles over the hole, prompting the screen to erupt into big, orange letters that scream, “HOME IN ONE.”
There are hours of this, and somehow What the Golf? gets even crazier without losing much momentum. It’s billed as a golf game for people who don’t like golf, but frankly, this is a game that everyone should love.
Sayonara Wild Hearts
Sayonara Wild Hearts is a psychedelic, music-driven fever dream. It’s technically a rhythm game in the vein of Thumper, but it says sayonara to that game’s abstractions in favor of a trippy story about a woman saving the world on her motorcycle. She flies through crevasses, collects hearts, carefully times jumps, and spatters bullets into towering robot dogs while catchy pop songs thump in the background.
Some levels are better than others, and the frequent change in perspective occasionally makes it hard to reorient yourself the first time you play a level. But this is every bit the “art house” type of game Apple Arcade should champion and have more of. It’s also on the Nintendo Switch, by the way, but with Apple Arcade you won’t have to pay the normal $13 price tag.
Grindstone is a variation on the endless Bejeweled and Candy Crush Saga clones on the regular App Store. So why is it on this list? Because, dang it, it’s just so fun. And, of course—this being Apple Arcade—you don’t have to worry about all these microtransactions that tarnish other games in this genre.
It’s deliciously gory, too (in a cartoony way). Grindstone puts you in the boots of a blue-skinned berserker who cuts a path through beasts of the same type with his sword. You’ll decide which path he should take before each turn, press Go, and then watch as all the monsters explode as his sword storms through them. It’s fun, it’s challenging, and it’s a reminder that these types of games don’t need artificial limitations placed on them in order to retain their appeal.
Imagine if someone took the impossible staircases of M.C. Escher’s famous lithograph Relativity and scattered Portal-like puzzles about them, and you’d have a good idea of what to expect from Manifold Garden. Designed by artist William Chyr, it’s mainly a game about dropping boxes onto switches in order to open doors—with the twist that you can only pick up the boxes while they’re on the floor. Sometimes you’ll find one high on the wall, so you’ll need to press a button and—get this—flip the entire world until the wall becomes the floor.
It gets much, much crazier. If you flip while on a staircase, you might find yourself sliding off the building’s “wall” and dropping into infinity—until, that is, you land on an identical structure far below. It’s a smart way of making players regard the world differently in order to look for solutions—a lesson players should carry far behind the game’s confines—although I never fully lost the resulting sense of vertigo while playing. I’d say that’s to Manifold Garden’s credit.
Untitled Goose Game was one of 2019’s most delightful games, and you’ll find a bit of its playfully menacing spirit in Apple Arcade with Sneaky Sasquatch. You’re Bigfoot, basically, and you spend your days ransacking campsites for food to sell to a snoozy bear. But you can also masquerade as a human, go fishing, steal golf carts (and play golf), and buy new toys and tools from an enterprising raccoon for other adventures. You’ll also spend a lot of time running from the park ranger—or at least you will if you don’t learn to tiptoe with your massive feet!
I’ve heard Sneaky Sasquatch described as a “wholesome Grand Theft Auto,” and I think that’s a good way to put it. There’s a lot of silly fun awaiting you here, and I found myself wishing for more when it was done.
In some still images, Inmost’s pixel art evokes happy 1980s Nintendo games. In action, though, it doesn’t take long to realize you’ll find few smiles here.
Seconds in, Inmost warns you that you might find it “emotionally upsetting.” Moments after that, you start playing as a poor little girl scrambling to escape her locked monochrome apartment. Not long after that, you wander past shadows as a sad bearded man and then (for a dash of action), you slice through looming horrors as a knight. And after a few hours of all that, you may start wondering if you’ll revisit Inmost in your nightmares.
It’s both frightful and moving. It’s also more than a little reminiscent of indie darling Limbo, but Inmost carves out an identity for itself with three playable characters, hidden object hunts, and a story you don’t have to guess at. For that matter, I see its gloom as a welcome break from the infectious, colorful cheer of so much of the rest of Apple Arcade. Every yang needs its yin.
Even if you think you prefer games with ultra-realistic graphics, you should give Bleak Sword a chance. It may look like the love spawn of early ‘80s Nintendo and Atari, but it’s become my most-played Apple Arcade game. You’re a stick-figure swordsman, and each round you fight off zombies, bats, spiders, and other beasts for as many levels as you can.
Using a stamina bar, you attack, dodge, parry, and counterattack, and you’ll win items as you level that help you survive the most difficult levels. You’ll have to be careful, too. In a Dark Souls-inspired twist, you’ll have one chance to beat a level you died in before you lose the experience and gear you picked up. Be sure to soak in that awesome soundtrack, too.
Assemble with Care
Assemble with Care is a rare delight in our disposable world: It’s about a young woman named Maria who travels the world fixing things. Superficially, she fixes everything from faulty cassette players to shattered mantlepiece statues, but as the story unfolds, it’s clear she’s repairing broken relationships as well.
Assemble with Care isn’t hard: Some of the “fixing” basically amounts to replacing some expired batteries. But there’s plenty of relaxation to be found in the mundane motions of spinning unwound cassette tape, using a screwdriver to open the battery compartment, and snapping the cassette back into its deck. For that matter, there’s the joy of seeing the characters’ delight when they get their once-broken possessions back. It’s a satisfying game. With a runtime of around two hours, it’s not long, but you’ll think about it more than any of the other story-driven games on Apple Arcade.
Pilgrims is one of the games that dropped after the initial rollout of Apple Arcade, and it provides hope that Apple's service will continue to be as impressive as it was initially. It’s at once a point-and-click adventure and a card game, with a story that’s told largely through music and pictures in thought bubbles rather than with words.
You “play” the mustachioed protagonist as a card to get him to show up in the scenes you travel to on the overworld map, and you click on objects like acorns and pots to add them as cards to your deck. Pilgrims is all about finding the right situations in which to use these items. Developer Amanita Design handles this beautifully—so well that you’ll likely be sad when this breezy tale about helping other people finally runs out of cards. Also, the Eastern European-inspired soundtrack shouldn’t be missed.
Cat Quest II
Apple Arcade is basically a family-friendly gaming service, and that why it's hardly surprising that one of its best fantasy RPGs is a corny adventure that takes place in a kingdom of cats. Let’s get this out of the way now: If your fur bristles at puns about how cats are being “purrsecuted,” then you might want to steer clear of Cat Quest II. The puns get far, far worse.
If you’re cool with it, though (and yes, hello, I am), you’ll grow to love the gameplay that hinges on switching between the dog and cat under your control. It’s a useful and rewarding setup, and I personally used it to set up my cat as a magic user and my dog as a warrior. And if your friends want to come along, you can even play co-op. It’s a purrfect blend of charm and challenge.